Electric bicycles are a touchy subject. Let’s face it, they have little appeal to the hardcore mountain biker. In fact, the idea of out-of-shape couch jockeys clogging up our favorite singletrack assaults our collective senses. But do electric bicycles really have a valid market outside of the commuter or M.U.T. (multi-user-trail aka paved or gravel path) rider? Electric bikes have gained acceptance in Europe, Canada and other countries, but what is it that is slowing their acceptance here in the US?
Big name brands like Trek, Orbea, Raleigh and others all have models that use the BionX technology. BionX is a motorized hub, battery and control console that come stock on some models but can also be retro-fitted to almost any bike. The battery can be mounted to either the down tube or to a rear rack. At the QBP SaddleDrive dealer event, BionX had demo bikes with their electric drive system including Surly Moonlander and Pugsly fat bikes and Salsa Horsethief full suspension 29ers. Response from dealers was mostly positive.
Like many emerging technologies, the challenges are familiar. Weight and price are high. Acknowledging these hurdles, BionX has recently lowered both for 2013. The new 48v system has a new SL motor that has been lightened by 2.5 lbs and the price has been dropped from $1950 to $1700 (prices for the higher end model have dropped from $2100 to $1900). The bigger controller console has been improved for easier usage and better access to settings and features. Even the battery has been lightened. The biggest news is that the battery has gone from a 37 volt system to a 48 volt system for their Premium line (SL 350 HT). The 37 volt system is still available in the BionX “Power” line (PL 350HT). They also make a cheaper 26v system (PL 250 M) as well. The new Premium battery offers 20% more range than the old ‘L’ battery versions.
I personally own a BionX equipped Trek hardtail that I have ridden on some of my favorite trails as well as commuting. The main thing to keep in mind is that the BionX is a “pedal-assist” system. It does have the option for a rider to hold the “throttle” down and not pedal. However, this eats up the battery in a huge way and is not the intended purpose. Also, there are limits to how fast and how steep you can climb using the battery only. The system is designed to ADD to the rider’s own power inputs (thus creating an appropriately named ‘bionic’ pedaler).
Like many things new, acceptance is based on many factors, but key to electric bike acceptance will be getting riders to TRY an electric bike. Sure, it isn’t for everybody and every trail. However, for given riders and situations, it can allow riders who might normally find the fitness level required to be too daunting to even try, thus expanding the potential community of mountain bikers (which is a good thing!) Perhaps you have a significant other, older child or co-worker who is interested in trying mountain biking, but is worried about not being able to “keep up”. Depending on the kinds of trails you ride, electric pedal-assist bicycles may be the key.
What about unfit wannabe’s clogging our favorite trails? Well, as most experienced riders know, the fitness aspect of mountain biking is only one facet and there are other skills that need to be developed along with having the ability to tackle all the climbing. Crowded trails due to e-bike riders? I’m not worried.
Here are the tech highlights of the Premium SL 350 HT XL kit from BionX:
Top of the line system with an Xtra Long range 48 V battery, offering 20% more range than the ‘L’ battery versions. Includes our new SL motor, featuring the same performance specifications of the PL 350 HT L, but about 2.5lb lighter. Standard with our new compact power supply, this system is for users who won’t compromise. The best weight to distance ratio in the BionX system roster.
- Range**: 105km (65 mi.)
- Battery: Li-Ion / 48V / 8.8 Ah / 423 Wh
- Torque (Nom./Max.): 9.0/40.0 Nm (6.6/29.5 lb.-ft.)
- Weight (System): 7.3kg (16.1 lb.)
- Assist Levels: 35, 75, 150, 300%
For more info: www.bionxinternational.com